Organ donation has risen tenfold in India but more needs to be done

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Did you know that organ donation from one donor can save eight lives and provide tissues that can help almost 50 people? Organ donation is one of the greatest contributions to humanity. It is a true gift of life – not only are you saving the lives of many, but also bringing in new hopes and dreams to the receiver.

This year marks the 27th anniversary of passage of the Human Organ Transplantation Act (HOTA) in India. The HOTA (later known as the Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Act (THOTA) laid the foundation for the conduct of deceased donation in India by setting out clinical benchmarks in the recognition and testing for brain stem death as well as establishing rigorous penalties for commercial organ trafficking. This Act, and subsequent modifications over the next two decades, heralded a new era in organ transplantation in India. This led to an underserved country like India to have one of the largest volume transplant programs in the world.

End stage organ failure causes nearly half a million deaths in India annually as well as untold misery to several patients who have to undergo dialysis. However, India has successfully developed kidney, liver, heart, lung, pancreas and small bowel transplant programs in the public and private sector, while centres in India lead the way in innovative procedures such as hand and uterus transplants.

Over the past decade, organ donation rates have risen more than tenfold across the country. The rate has gone up from 0.08 per million to more than 0.8 per million population, with several states recording donation rates of 3 to 4 per million population. Several states – Rajasthan, Bengal have started active organ donation programs as well as transplant programs in teaching institutes.

This has been made possible due to the ongoing efforts of the central and state governments under the auspices of the National Organ Transplant and Tissue Organisation (NOTTO) as well as several committed NGOs such as MOHAN Foundation and Transplant India which have worked with civil society and media to increase awareness and remove misconceptions around organ donation. Transplant coordinators are the backbone of organ donation, and MOHAN Foundation has actively focused on training transplant coordinators across the country.

The organ donation process has been simplified and streamlined by rules such as a brain death audit, identification and creation of non-transplant organ retrieval centres and the development of a strong logistic network to facilitate organ utilisation at the state and regional level. Innovative ideas such as green corridors allow the rapid movement of organs through crowded cities and also increase public awareness of organ donation. Karnataka and Telangana have allowed a simplification of the inquest and post-mortem procedures to respect the sensitivities of the families who chose to donate their organs.

Additionally, innovative ideas such as recording of the organ donation status on the driving license has increased awareness as well as the number of people registered to donate after death.

India plans to record 75 lakh pledges for organ donation to mark its 75th year of independence next year. A national commitment to the cause of organ donation will prevent the loss of more than 5 lakh Indians every year, and bring comfort to many.

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